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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Marjorie Greene speaks during the Catoosa County Republican Party meeting on Monday, Jan. 6, 2020 in Ringgold, Ga. Greene is a candidate for Congress for Georgia's 14th District.

In their first televised debate before the Aug. 11 runoff, Georgia congressional candidates Marjorie Taylor Greene and John Cowan spent much of their time accusing each other of lying, mishandling business operations and derailing the debate structure by arguing over issues both campaigns have been focused on through social media.

Whoever wins the GOP runoff election in the conservative 14th District is expected to make their way to Washington, D.C.

The contest between Greene and Cowan has received national attention, in part due to comments from Greene has posted on her Facebook page over the last few years.

In the videos, Greene said Black people "are held slaves to the Democratic Party," stoked fears of "an Islamic invasion of our government" after the first two Muslim women were elected to the U.S. House, and said she would feel "proud" to see a Confederate monument if she were Black because it would symbolize how much progress the country has made since the Civil War.

The videos, which were uncovered by Politico, are the reason many in the Republican party — at the federal, state and local levels — have distanced themselves from Greene.

The GOP groups in Walker County and the 14th Congressional District hosted the first debate last week, and Cowan, a resident of Floyd County, didn't take much time to pounce on Greene's establishment vulnerability.

"It's terrifying to me that Marjorie Greene can be our next Congresswoman," Cowan said. "I'll be the best ally that Donald Trump has by getting elected and keeping you out of office, because the Democrats will use you as their chief fundraiser for all the crazy and ludicrous things that you say."

In the June 9 primary, Greene received 47% of the vote and got nearly twice as many votes as Cowan.

Greene went after Cowan for several things throughout the debate. She criticized him for receiving donations from the American Medical Association, donating to Chris Christie's presidential bid in 2016 and accused him of sending American jobs to China by working with that country with his toy manufacturing company.

Greene and Cowan share a lot of the same political beliefs. They both say they are pro-gun, anti-abortion, tough on immigration, tough on China and support President Trump wholeheartedly.

Throughout the campaign, Greene has criticized Cowan for never donating to Trump and his campaign. Greene said she has done so several times and has supported Trump ever since "he came down the escalator."

It only took three questions into the debate for things to go off script. When asked about sanctions against China for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, Greene accused Cowan of sending American jobs there as part of his toy manufacturing company.

Cowan pushed back against the assertion, calling it a lie and saying he has had to purchase materials from China. He then said Greene does the same for her Alpharetta-based construction company.

"You don't know anything about my company," Greene said. "We buy our supplies right here in the United States."

The two also argued over Confederate statues. Greene told the Dalton City Council that she wanted to keep the statue of Confederate Gen. Joseph Johnston where it is and criticized Cowan for not showing up to support it.

At that meeting, Greene suggested she wouldn't want to take down even statues of Hitler or Satan.

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John Cowan / contributed photo

"I was praying for your soul actually after I heard those comments," Cowan said.

Earlier this month, Cowan accused Greene of not using the E-Verify system — a state program that allows employers to confirm they are not hiring illegal workers — in the years she served as an executive in her family construction company.

Greene and her campaign quickly rebutted the accusation, saying her company has used the E-Verify program since 2010, three years before the state required companies to do so by law. Cowan's campaign then shot back, saying Greene had proved his point.

"Marjorie Taylor Greene published a letter that confirms she refused to use E-Verify at her company from 2003-2010 when she was listed in state documents as CFO," Cowan's attorney Bryan Tyson wrote in response.

Greene, through her attorney L. Lin Wood, demanded Cowan remove an ad he posted about Greene and her company's E-Verify record. Cowan's team has not taken it down.

Greene said during the debate that abortion is "completely evil and the worst thing to happen in human history" and that the country has to "work hard to get rid of things like Antifa and Black Lives Matter."

She also accused Cowan of "parading around" like a Floyd County Sheriff's Office deputy while on the campaign trail. Cowan has said in multiple social media posts that he is a reserve deputy for the sheriff's office.

In a statement, Floyd County Sheriff Tim Birkhaulter said Cowan is a special reserve deputy and was sworn in in January before he announced his candidacy.

Greene said she would not support a mask mandate, said kids need to be back in school in the fall because "they are not in these high-risk groups," and to get teachers back employed. Cowan said he would like to defund the U.S. Department of Education, get schools off the federal payroll and he also wanted kids back in school.

The 14th District includes Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Floyd, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Polk, Walker, Whitfield and a portion of Pickens counties.

Early voting in Georgia for the runoff starts July 20.

Contact Patrick Filbin at pfilbin@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow him on Twitter @PatrickFilbin.

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